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Social injustice, COVID-19 at forefront of MIAA Educational Athletics meeting

Two of the prominent issues sweeping the country — social injustice and COVID-19 — were at the forefront of discussion Tuesday morning during a virtual meeting of the MIAA Educational Athletics Committee.

Assistant directors Michael Rubin and Kathleen McSweeney spoke on behalf of the association’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee on its ongoing initiatives, and led a discussion of how education on issues of race can continue to be a prominent part of high school athletics.

In an open letter last week to membership of both the MIAA and the Massachusetts School Administrators’ Association, executive director Bill Gaine pledged that both groups “are committed to addressing these issues in an ongoing, enduring, purposeful, and determined manner.”

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Rubin told the MEAC that one of the goals of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee is to create four regional workshops — North, South, Central and West — that also would better its chances of securing grant money from nonprofit organizations such as The Boston Foundation and the Kraft Foundation. He said the DEI committee previously had been denied a grant from The Boston Foundation.

“One of the reasons we got turned down in our first attempt is, we did not have regional workshops,” said Rubin, who has been with the MIAA since 2014 after serving as headmaster at East Boston High School.

“We have an outstanding group of professionals and people on our DEI committee,” Rubin said. “They’re doing this on a volunteer basis. We have to find some funding for these services.”

Avery Esdaile, athletic director for Boston Public Schools, asked whether the MIAA would be able to create a baseline for funding the programs on a permanent basis, much like with the MIAA’s summits for Women in Sports, and Sportsmanship.

“We don’t want this to be a short-term fix. We want this to be a vital part of both of our associations, today and moving forward,” said McSweeney.

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“Just some simple things to keep this topic at the forefront as we get back to school and move through the year,” McSweeney said.

The MEAC also received an update on the MIAA’s COVID-19 task force, which was formed last month on the recommendation and support of the Board of Directors to address issues facing high school athletics during the current pandemic.

MIAA assistant director Sherry Bryant told the MEAC the task force has created three working groups to examine each of the potential scenarios school districts could be facing regarding the structure of learning beginning in the fall:

▪ Remaining more virtual — Bryant said the MIAA would continue its mission to deliver its core values to student-athletes, developing curriculum to allow coaches to continue to work remotely with student-athletes.

▪ A more hybrid model — Given the potential of staggered schedules for in-person education, or split days, both with some component of virtual learning. “This seems to be the most difficult model to get our arms around,” Bryant said.

▪ The “new normal” — Returning to in-school education on a regular basis, but with all of the new protocols being put forward.

“We don’t have control over all of the decision-making,” said Bryant, noting that Governor Charlie Baker and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ultimately will have final say. “There’s a lot and it’s fluid. That’s where we stand right now.”

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The Board of Directors is not scheduled to meet again until July 21.

Duxbury AD Thom Holdgate, a member of both the MEAC and the MIAA Board of Directors who is co-chair of the task force, said one of the challenges is that different school districts potentially could fall into any of those three categories at the same time.

“Obviously different parts of the state are in different areas as to where they think they can return,” Holdgate said. “We’re tackling all those sorts of pieces.”

Other states already are at varying stages of allowing high school athletics to return. Oklahoma, whose state association’s board of directors last month rejected proposed guidelines for COVID-19, instead is leaving such decisions to individual school districts.

“We’re hoping we’ll all be on the same page,” Holdgate said of the MIAA’s task force, “knowing [individual school districts] might be on different levels, but we all want to follow the same playbook.

“It’s a group that’s sort of understanding we might need to roll with the punches.”